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31It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


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30. For we know him that hath said, etc. Both the passages are taken from Deuteronomy 32:35, 36. But as Moses there promises that God would take vengeance for the wrongs done to his people, it seems that the words are improperly and constrainedly applied to the vengeance referred to here; for what does the Apostle speak of? Even that the impiety of those who despised God would not be unpunished. Paul also in Romans 12:19, knowing the true sense of the passage, accommodates it to another purpose; for having in view to exhort us to patience, he bids us to give place to God to take vengeance, because this office belongs to him; and this he proves by the testimony of Moses. But there is no reason why we should not turn a special declaration to a universal truth. Though then the design of Moses was to console the faithful, as they would have God as the avenger of wrongs done to them; yet we may always conclude from his words that it is the peculiar office of God to take vengeance on the ungodly. Nor does he pervert his testimony who hence proves that the contempt of God will not be unpunished; for he is a righteous judge who claims to himself the office of taking vengeance.

At the same time the Apostle might here also reason from the less to the greater, and in this manner: “God says that he will not suffer his people to be injured with impunity, and declares that he will surely be their avenger: If he suffers not wrongs done to men to be unpunished, will he not avenge his own? Has he so little or no care and concern for his own glory, as to connive at and pass by indignities offered to him?” But the former view is more simple and natural, — that the Apostle only shows that God will not be mocked with impunity, since it is his peculiar office to render to the ungodly what they have deserved. 187187     The quotation is literally neither from the Hebrew nor from the Sept., but is the same as quoted in Romans 12:19; which seems to show that Paul is the Author of both epistles. The Hebrew is, “Mine is vengeance and recompense;” and the Sept., “In the day vengeance will I recompense.” The sense is the same, though the words are different. — Ed.

The Lord shall judge his people. Here another and a greater difficulty arises; for the meaning of Moses seems not to agree with what here intended. The Apostle seems to have quoted this passage as though Moses had used the word punish, and not judge; but as it immediately follows by way of explanation, “He will be merciful to his saints,” it appears evident that to judge here is to act as a governor, according to its frequent meaning in the Hebrew; but this seems to have little to do with the present subject. Nevertheless he who weighs well all things will find that this passage is fitly and suitably adduced here; for God cannot govern the Church without purifying it, and without restoring to order the confusion that may be in it. Therefore this governing ought justly to be dreaded by hypocrites, who will then be punished for usurping a place among the faithful, and for perfidiously using the sacred name of God, when the master of the family undertakes himself the care of setting in order his own house. It is in this sense that God is said to arise to judge his people, that is, when he separates the truly godly from hypocrites, (Psalm 1:4;) and in Psalm 125:5, 188188     The original text referred to Ps 125:3, which seems to be directed more at the fact that the wicked will not persevere over the righteous, whereas Ps 125:5 refers to the wicked joining the “workers of iniquity,” and that “peace will be upon Israel”; neither are quite as explicit as the commentary in terms of the final destruction of the wicked, but in my humble opinion, verse 5 has more relevance.-fj. where the Prophet speaks of exterminating hypocrites, that they might no more dare to boast that they were of the Church, because God bore with them; he promises peace to Israel after having executed his judgment.

It was not then unreasonably that the apostle reminded them that God presided over his Church and omitted nothing necessary for its rightful government, in order that they might all learn carefully to keep themselves under his power, and remember that they had to render an account to their judge. 189189     See Appendix O 2.

He hence concludes that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. A mortal man, however incensed he may be, cannot carry his vengeance beyond death; but God’s power is not bounded by so narrow limits; besides, we often escape from men, but we cannot escape from God’s judgment. Who soever then considers that he has to do with God, must (except he be extremely stupid) really tremble and quake; nay, such an apprehension of God must necessarily absorb the whole man, so that no sorrows, or torments can be compared with it. In short, whenever our flesh allures us or we flatter ourselves by any means in our sins, this admonition alone ought to be sufficient to arouse us, that “it is a fearful thing to fall into to hands of the living God;” for his wrath is furnished with dreadful punishments which are to be forever.

However, the saying of David, when he exclaimed, that it was better to fall into Gods hands than into the hands of men, (2 Samuel 24:14,) seems to be inconsistent with what is said here. But this apparent inconsistency vanishes, when we consider that David, relying confidently on God’s mercy, chose him as his Judge rather than men; for though he knew that God was displeased with him, yet he felt confident that he would be reconciled to him; in himself, indeed, he was prostrate on the ground, but yet he was raised up by the promise of grace. As then he believed God not to be inexorable, there is no wonder that he dreaded his wrath less, than that of men; but the Apostle here speaks of God’s wrath as being dreadful to the reprobate, who being destitute of the hope of pardon, expect nothing but extreme severity, as they have already closed up against themselves the door of grace. And we know that God is set forth in various ways according to the character of those whom he addresses; and this is what David means when he says, “With the merciful thou wilt be merciful, and with the froward thou wilt be froward.” (Psalm 18:25-27.) 190190     The original text had Ps 18:27, but because the quote comes partly from the first half of verse 25, and partly from the last half of verse 26, and is emphasized by verse 27, I decided that all three verses should be referenced.-fj.




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